End of Year Countdown: What’s on the Congressional Agenda for Students and Colleges


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired Nov. 19, 2021

In this live conversation, hosts Jon Fansmith and Sarah Spreitzer discuss the status of the Build Back Better Act—the budget reconciliation bill that enacts a large chunk of the Biden administration’s domestic agenda—legislation dealing with competition with China, a House hearing on the education sector’s use of COVID-19 emergency relief funds, and more as Congress pushes toward the end of the year with a lengthy to-do list. ​

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

House Moves Forward on Build Back Better Act, Passes Infrastructure Bill

First Look: Use of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) at U.S. Colleges and Universities

House Education and Labor Subcommittee Hearing: Examining the Implementation of COVID-19 Education Funds

Biden Administration Announces New Vaccine Rules for Public and Private Sectors

U.S. Higher Education Community Calls for a Return to Pre-COVID 19 International Student Enrollment Numbers


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. In this episode of our monthly interactive recording, Sarah Spreitzer joins me in place of a vacationing Terry Hartle. We cover everything that's happening in Washington from reconciliation to Congress's end-of-the-year agenda. As always, we also appreciate your questions and suggestions for show ideas and you can share those with us at podcast@acenet.edu. Now enjoy the conversation.

Hello and welcome to today's public policy popup. My name's Jon Fansmith and I'm here with my colleague ACE's Assistant Vice President, Sarah Spreitzer. This month, we have updates for you on reconciliation, NDAA, Congress's end-of-the-year agenda, plus a few other things. If you are listening live, please send any questions in through the chat function and we'll do our best to address as many of as we can. So Sarah, a lot happening here in Washington, D.C. We say this all the time, the pace doesn't slow, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. Well, also given that it's a week before Thanksgiving, before the Thanksgiving holiday, and I think folks are planning to be out of town next week, there's a lot happening this week.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I think one of the things that's happening this week is something that people have been expecting for the last few weeks to be happening and hasn't quite, although there has been action. Reconciliation, right? The 800 pound gorilla of Congress at the moment. As people may know, there was a whole lot of action last week and that there was finally agreement on moving forward on some of the legislation. This was a pretty complicated series of negotiations right up until the last minute where there was a plan to vote on both bills. Then there was a plan to vote on the infrastructure bill, the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Ultimately what happened was there was agreement to pass a rule in the House to move the reconciliation bill forward with an agreement from House moderates that they would do so by November 15th. People may notice that is today's date and they haven't had that vote yet. But they did vote on infrastructure. Infrastructure passed. The president is signing it today. So at least of these two big spending bills, one has now or is soon to be passed into law. The infrastructure bill, from our perspective, there's not a lot in there that's specifically for higher education. Probably the only provision that is directly beneficial to higher education is a program in the infrastructure part, the $65 billion for infrastructure, that would make permanent a program that called the Affordable Connectivity Program. This is basically a new version of what was the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which was provided through the relief bills, which that provision provided $50 a month to low-income individuals to use for internet connections or internet-capable devices. The permanent program is only $30 a month, but it is permanent. It goes forward. Why we care about that is one of the key provisions is that Pell Grant students are automatically eligible for that benefit, so it will be helpful to low-income students. $30 a month doesn't miss to say by a whole lot of internet connectivity, but obviously any bit helps and having that available is good. So that's where infrastructure stands, but reconciliation, Sarah, we talked about this, there was supposed to be a vote by today according to the moderates if certain conditions were met. One of those conditions is that there would be a CBO score that aligned with what the framework said it would be. We haven't quite hit that, have we?

Sarah Spreitzer: No. We're still also waiting for the Senate Parliamentarian to rule on whether or not they can include the immigration provisions, which right now includes parole, which would allow folks to have a stay of deportation and receive work authorization if they arrived in the US before 2011. This is actually Plan C being offered to the Senate Parliamentarian. The big thing about this is there's no path to citizenship. It really is just a five-year Band-Aid stay of deportation. So it's something, but it's not everything. I think that that was also complicating the negotiations last week because this doesn't go far enough for many of the progressives.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. That's a key point in what the problem is, is this is really more of a debate between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party. You saw some of that as the House moved forward to get a bill finalized. You saw a provision for paid leave being reinserted that had previously been struck and you saw a provision that would reduce the state and local tax, the SALT tax provision for five years, that was added at the behest of moderates. So there's a couple things that've gone through. Both of those provisions in particular seem to have challenges in the Senate. So when this House is able to get a vote going, they hope to do that this week. They don't still have a complete score yet. CBO has been releasing the scores in pieces, little bits and pieces of the bill being scored. If they do get to that and it goes to the Senate, that doesn't mean it's done. The Senate will have a lot to say about this, not just the Parliamentarian's rulings, which always seem to kick out a few things everyone focuses on and then a handful of things that nobody's really noticed before. But Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema still have objections to big pieces that are going to be in the version of the bill the House will pass. So a very cloudy outlook right now for reconciliation where it stands. That being the case, the Senate has decided to do something with their free time. Right? While they wait for the House to sort out what they're doing on reconciliation.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yes. Yeah, yeah.

Jon Fansmith: What are they doing? Sarah, tell us about that.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, they're going to take up the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. This is the massive piece of must pass legislation that authorizes all of the programs at the Department of Defense and is also considered a vehicle for a few of the things at the end of the year that they can't pass on other bills. So the Senate's going to be taking up that bill this week. There's a lot of amendments being proposed, but probably the biggest one is that Senator Schumer is considering adding the US Innovation and Competition Act, or as we like to call it, USICA. This is the massive China bill that passed earlier this year that has lots of great things in it for the federal research agencies, increased authorizations. But there are also some security provisions that are of concern to the higher education community. That includes a new requirement for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, or CFIUS, to closely examine and review any large foreign gifts or contracts to institutions of higher education. It also creates a new section, 124, in the Higher Education Act, which would require around 500 colleges and universities to create and maintain databases so that they can capture any foreign gifts or contracts to individual faculty or staff. We believe that would just be a nightmare to create and maintain on our campuses. It's also unclear what the information would be used for. There's no dollar threshold currently in the legislation. So this would be anything like a visiting scholar takes a faculty member out for a cup of coffee. We believe it could be interpreted that that would need to be reported. It also would lower the Section 117 foreign gift and contract reporting threshold from the current $250,000 down to $50,000. Section 117 is something that campuses have worked very hard to come into compliance with. It's still a very confusing regulation because there's never been a formal rule making around Section 117. So adding to that chaos, the lowering of the reporting threshold would be a big deal for our campuses. So the Senate is expected to take up the NDAA. It would still have to be conferenced with what passed the House earlier this year, so we have an opportunity, I think, to get some changes, but I think that's going to be the big thing, at least for me, this week.

Jon Fansmith: Has the House passed the version of USICA? That would be totally new, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: No, they have not, but it did pass the Senate under bipartisan support and so it can be added as an amendment. But the House doesn't have anything that's the equivalent. They have passed a few smaller pieces of legislation such as the NSF for the Future Act, which reauthorizes the National Science Foundation, but they haven't done anything on the same scope as USICA.

Jon Fansmith: We've talked about this, I think in a couple different formats, but concerns about of China is one of the few bipartisan issues in Washington. Do we think it's likely that if USICA goes over to the House as part of an NDAA package, that the House would be receptive to that? Is that something that they would... Conferencing and reconciling the differences between their two versions of NDAA seems pretty straightforward, but this seems like a big wild card to add to the mix, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: I mean, there are pieces that higher ed wants to keep in there, then there are pieces of great concern such as the Section 124. So I don't think the House would be able to strike the entire bill from the NDAA. Whether or not they're going to be able to conference pieces of it, I'm not sure.

Jon Fansmith: Well, something to keep track of. Sarah, so you're going to be focused on the Senate this week. I am going to be focused on the House this week. Not just on reconciliation, but there's a big hearing coming up, the House Education Labor Committee is going to be holding a hearing Wednesday morning on the use of the emergency relief funds. It's not specific to higher education, it'll be for both K-12 and higher ed, but the Department of Education sending over to top officials James Kvaal, the Under Secretary of Education, and Cindy Marten, the Deputy Secretary of Education, to testify before the committee. I think this is an interesting hearing in that they're going to look at how, and focus on higher ed here obviously, how institutions have used their money. But I think the one thing we're picking up a lot of, and that seems to be will be the focus of a number of questions, will be why institutions haven't used all of their money yet and in particular, is that indicative that institutions receive more money than they needed or are not carefully managing the funds. I think we know, and the people participating, listening to us now who work on campuses understand how carefully and thoughtfully campuses take the responsibility to manage federal funds and allocate it to their students to use it for institutional purposes. But we know, and you've already seen comments about this, that people are saying, "Look, if school's only spent 60% of the money we gave of them, maybe we should take it back." Right? Why did they need so much money? Did we award too much? So it's going to be an interesting hearing. I think the Department has a better sense a lot of times of exactly what schools are doing because they talk to them all the time. They have the data about how the money's gone out. We expect that they'll probably give a pretty spirited defense of the program and how it's been administered, but there'll be some fireworks and it'll be certainly an interesting one to keep an eye on.

Sarah Spreitzer: Jon, are there bipartisan concerns on that or do you think it will be the House Democrats united with the Department of Education and the Republicans asking questions?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean, I think that's basically true. It'll split on partisan lines. That said, there is a lot of interests on both sides about huge sums of money that went out for higher education in the course of about a year. It was $77 billion in assistance to institutions and students. Even if you think that was the right thing to do, as many members on both sides do, there's still concerns about how it's being managed and where the money's going. There's a couple questions I saw just in the chat that I'll mention about the hearing itself. It's 10:15 on Wednesday morning and it will be broadcast through the Ed and Labor Committee's website. It's a Zoom hearing. So the members won't be in physical attendance. So 10:15 Wednesday morning, you can watch that.

Sarah Spreitzer: There's nobody from higher ed, it's just officials from the Department of Education. So in a way, they're kind of speaking for our institutions, correct?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. They're, in some ways, they're speaking for our institutions and speaking for institutions and speaking for themselves. We had a transition in administrations between when the first relief funding went out and the rules under which it was dispersed and the rules under which institutions could use the money to this administration who took a lot of different policy positions from the Trump Administration in terms of allowing undocumented students to be eligible to receive emergency funds, expanding the types of things schools could use them for, including to reimburse themselves for lost revenues. So there's a lot of things in there that the way institutions have used them are the clear result of policy changes in the administration. So when they speak to is this the right thing to do, yeah, they're defending the institutions, but they're also defending the choices they made as they push that money out the door.

Sarah Spreitzer: Jon, this may be familiar to people that are listening to this public policy pop-up, because I think we've been asking our members for information about how they were spending those HEERF funds so that we can be prepared following this hearing to respond to some of the questions, correct?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. In the government relations office at ACE, we were helped enormously by our colleagues, the smart data-minded people on the other side of the building. They ran a survey for us. We had some help from some colleague associations, a lot of the other presidential associations also circulated it. It was really interesting. I mean, we had 400 responses from college university presidents, which is a pretty remarkable response rate. I think it speaks to how important this money is on campuses. The questions were essentially what did the money allow you to do? What was the impact on your campus? A lot of it was what you might expect. Really, percentages in the 70s, 80s, 90s that it allowed them to keep students enrolled, it allowed them to keep price points low for students, it allowed them to maintain programs. I think the one that struck me the most was 18% of presidents said that it allowed them to keep their institution open, which, particularly when you talk to college presidents, that's a really sensitive subject. The idea that you might be financially at risk as an institution, all the repercussions if that were to be public, the fact that such a large percentage, almost one in five college presidents said that these HEERF funds allowed them to keep their campus running. I mean, that's massive. That's really indicative of how important this funding was to campuses. And we've shared that with the Department of Ed and with the Committee staff.

Sarah Spreitzer: Jon, we have a question in the chat about whether or not we're going to make that data available publicly. I don't know if there's any plans to do that after the hearing.

Jon Fansmith: Oh, no, it's public now. It's actually up on ACE's website. I don't know if our producers can find the link easily, but there is a summary of the data which includes the specific questions that were asked and what the responses were. It's worth looking at in particular because I'm talking about the aggregate responses, but there were differences we delineated by sector. So there's a lot of interesting differences, in some cases, between how community college presidents saw different things than how private four-year presidents might have. So it's worth looking at. You should definitely check it out. It's not a long read, a couple pages, and really interesting.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's really interesting. Jon, you touched on institutions being worried during COVID of having to shut down. On a separate but related issue this week, or actually today, we saw, IIE has put out their Open Doors report, which is on international student enrollment and it looks one year back. So this is the report that's looking at fall 2020, where they did find we had a 43% drop in new international students. We did see the retention of many of our international students who were already here. For folks that don't remember last year, we had a flurry of activity because we had guidance from DHS, which was going to require international students to actually leave the US during the height of COVID, and the report cases brought against DHS, and the agency eventually backed off. But many of those students did remain in the US.

Sarah Spreitzer: So this new report today is also coupled with what's called the Fall Snapshot, where they go out and they survey institutions on how their enrollment figures look for this current semester, so fall 2021. What the Snapshot showed was that we've seen a 68% increase in new international students for this year. So it's hard to tell whether or not this is pent up energy about coming to the US now that things are reopening or if this is going to adjust and put us back on the path to return to normal.

Sarah Spreitzer: But as part of that Open Doors report, our colleagues at NAFSA, the Association for International Educators, they always do an economic impact study of international students. It generally is around $40 billion. It's a $40 billion impact on the US economy, which is huge. What they found is last fall, because of this drop in new international enrollment during COVID, that was a $10 billion drop. That was national economic impact. So I'm sure that was a huge impact on many of our institutions.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. In that report, I think I recall there was a big difference between new international students and existing international students. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. So what we really found was that our existing international students remained in the US, even if they were going to be online during the fall of 2020, that they stayed in the US and they continued to be enrolled. It really was on the new international side. Part of that is also because we couldn't really process new visas last year because US consulates were closed around the globe. What we've seen this year is there's been a huge surge of applications for F-1 and J-1 visas. So we knew that we were going to see good numbers for this fall semester, I just don't think we knew how good they were going to be. But it's also International Education Week-

Jon Fansmith: I did not know that.

Sarah Spreitzer: ... which is a big deal to all of US that celebrate. So it's a-

Jon Fansmith: Who designates it as International Education Week? Who makes that determination? Not you, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: Not me. I think that's probably, IIE and our friends at NAFSA. But it gives us an opportunity to talk about all things international education. As part of that, ACE has signed onto a statement which was put out earlier today by our friends at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, IIE, NAFSA, AACC, NAICU, AASCU. Am I missing anyone?

Jon Fansmith: Probably.

Sarah Spreitzer: Probably. We'll post that though so I don't miss anybody. But basically it calls on the federal government to create a national strategy around maintaining our international student enrollment. Really, I think it's since 2018, we started to see dips in our international student enrollment and we would like to get back to the high water mark, which we still know that we are just below. Even with that 68% increase this year, we are still below a million international students. That really was our high water mark. So this statement, which our colleague, Jon Riskind, just posted really calls for a return and being thoughtful in the federal policy actions that can be taken around that.

Jon Fansmith: Well, that's great. As we are advancing into the fall, part of one of the things we said we would talk about on this podcast is what exactly Congress needs to do by the end of the year. There's a whole bunch of things, right? Sarah, I mean, they have, as Congresses often want to do, pushed a lot of things into the very end of the calendar year. You want to tee a few of those up for us?

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, I would just say, Jon, December 3rd looms large for all of us. So I will toss it back to you to say a bit about what's going to happen on December 3rd. Why is December 3rd a big date?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. So December 3rd is a big, big date because that is the deadline Congress gave themselves to pass the funding bills and fund the federal government when they failed to meet their first deadline, which was October 1st. People are probably familiar with this. Congress has done this repeatedly, this kicking the deadline back is through a process that's called a continuing resolution. Essentially, Congress just passes a bill saying if we had to do this by October 1st, now we're going to do it by December 3rd and all federal agencies will run as if they are operating under the existing budget. This is in part because Congress has not done a lot of appropriations work this year. There's a whole calendar. The calendar's always off the first year of the new administration because the new administration comes in, they have their own plans, their own goals. It takes them a while to put their budget together, which usually kicks off this process. The Biden Administration had a very skinny budget proposal out in March that they followed up with a more comprehensive one. But the House has moved some bills. They've moved nine of their appropriations bills through the floor. They've passed nine of the 12 bills, including the Labor, HHS, Education one, which is one that we probably tracked the closest. The Senate so far has not passed any. In fact, the Senate is still very much stuck because the Senate cannot agree on what their top line will be. This is one of those arguments. It's a very sort of Washington argument. Their funding is usually split between two big pools, defense spending, all those things covered under the NDAA that you're talking about earlier, and non-defense spending. Not surprisingly, there tends to be partisan positions on exactly which part of the budget should get increases, which part of the budget might see a cut, things like that. With Democrats controlling both houses and the administration, there was a push to see a huge increase in the non-defense side of spending, and in particular, a huge increase in the Labor, HHS, Education bill. If you look at the House bills that they passed, that's reflected there. The percentage increased up, I think it's about 13.5% above what it was the last year. That's a giant jump in federal terms and there's huge increases. There's 6.5 billion in new funding for the National Institutes of Health. There's huge increases for work study, for FSEOG. There's a $400 increase for Pell. Really, what the House has done is the high water mark. That is the most we will see because they've written bills that are the most generous on the non-defenses side. On the Senate side where you can't have one party in the majority simply move it, this is all breaking down. In part, Senate Republicans want to see a larger percentage of the overall budget set on the defense side and a smaller part on the non-defense side. Not opposed to increases on both, but they want make sure that they're relatively proportional. Beyond, that the House did a bunch of things policy-wise in their bills that just won't fly in the Senate. The big one is that they eliminated what's called the so-called Hyde Amendment, which is language that has been in every appropriations bills dating back... I don't know. Do you know how long, Sarah? It's 30 years or so?

Sarah Spreitzer: I mean, yeah. It's been a long time.

Jon Fansmith: A long time. That bars the use of any federal funds through the programs in the appropriations bills for being used to support abortion. The House, for the first time in a long time, has stripped that language out. That simply won't fly in the Senate. So there's all these sort of big picture of fights that are happening and the Senate hasn't done anything. The one thing that they have done is the Senate Committee, the Appropriations Committee, has released their draft bills. This is essentially what they would do if they had support from their colleagues. Again, disagreement on what the top line numbers will be. What's interesting though is on a lot of these bills you see the same patterns we've seen in the last few years, which is that the House tends to be higher, the Senate tends to have increases, but not nearly to the level of the House. A lot of times, when they've reconciled these bills, what you've seen is somewhere in between. So for instance, the House has 6.5 for NIH. The Senate has 5 billion for NIH. Both significant increases, but $1.5 billion is real money, right? That's a difference that will have to be addressed. Same thing across all the financial aid programs. The one area where they do have in common, which we're happy to see, is the $400 increase in Pell. If the reconciliation bill goes forward and you get the 400 from appropriators, the 550 from reconciliation, that's a one year increase of almost $1,000 in the maximum Pell award. That's huge. It would be the largest increase in the program's history. So a lot obviously to be done there. People always ask, "Well, how's the deadlock on a break?" Well, we don't know, right? Some of these things... Republican senators won't support bills that don't include Hyde Amendment language. There's probably not a way around that. There will have to be some sort of agreement on that, but maybe not. Maybe they can't reach an agreement. This is the other theory that we've heard a lot about in D.C. now, which is that, well, when December 3rd comes... They punted back to December 3rd using a CR. Maybe they'll punt back to March using another CR and see how things go. There's even been talk, which seems kind of crazy, of doing a year-long CR, of essentially just saying, "You know what? This year we can't figure out what we're going to do. So we're just going to keep everything at the same levels, aside from a few adjustments where they have to make adjustments, and just start all over again next year and see if we can get the next year sorted out." That is something-

Sarah Spreitzer: There's so many problems with that because next year then we're hitting midterms. For our campuses that are listening in on this public policy pop-up, the longer you push it out, the harder it makes to plan. So if you knew that you had that $400 in additional Pell Grants and you're packaging financial aid, if you're not going to know until March, that's starting to put pressure on how you're going to package your financial aid, right? For our researchers that are relying on the funding to NIH and NSF, those research agencies can't start new grants under a continuing resolution. So the further this goes along... It's not like the end of the world for higher ed, but it's just harder for our institutions.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. Frankly, it's harder for the agencies too because they are operating in terms of they can't make the grants, they can't make... There's a lot of things that they're dependent on having the authorization and appropriations to do that, without knowing that, particularly the limbo that, well, if they punt it back to March, by March, you are six months into your fiscal year as a federal agency and you may see an entirely new budget coming at you. It's really difficult. The impact is felt on campuses. It's felt at the federal agencies. It's a really bad way to do policy. The other thing, and one of the reasons this longer-term CR is gaining some magnitude, is if you want to handicap a new administration, one of the ways you do it is refuse to give them spending bills that reflect their priorities. Normally, there's not a huge shift year to year in what gets funded in by how much. Usually, these are things around the margins, aside from maybe a few special projects. But it is a way for an administration to get their policy priorities out there and say, "We want this up. We want that down." They weigh in very heavily throughout the process to see things. If you do a CR, you've removed their voice from the process entirely. You've essentially said, "Whatever the last administration we negotiated with, that's what we're going to carry for forward." So there is some political motivations behind the idea of a CR and maybe some of the reluctance to find compromise on the Senate side. We'll see how it plays out. That would be bad enough, right? Like what we've described is not a great policy making outcome. December 3rd is also the date to which Congress, again, punted another deadline, which was the meeting the federal debt ceiling. Normally, Congress sets these two specific dates. This is the authorization for the federal government, the Treasury, to incur more debt. Congress, particularly an accommodation in the Senate, they punted it back to December 3rd as well. Mitch McConnell in particular has been very public about the fact that he believes that, with the House and the Senate both being under Democratic control and the administration being under Democratic control, it is a Democratic problem to address the debt ceiling. It may minimize the role of the minority party and an evenly split Senate. But that's what he's saying, that there's not a lot of interest in accommodating a debt ceiling vote.

Sarah Spreitzer: But the only way you do that, right, to be able to pass it with only Dem votes, you have to keep the caucus completely together and you would have to pass it under reconciliation.

Jon Fansmith: Yes.

Sarah Spreitzer: So to bring it back to the first item we talked about, Jon, do you see those things being wrapped together now that they're pushing reconciliation back, or at least in the Senate?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. So this is a really interesting question. Because of the way reconciliation works, you can't say... Well, Congress has done it in the past and they usually do this for a year and a half or two years at a time. They say, "We will set the debt ceiling. We will allow for the Treasury to accumulate debt up until March 15th, 2023." Right? That would be the preference certainly of Democrats to do, is to say, "Let's punt this into the next fiscal year. Let's push it down the road and we'll deal with it again in a different political climate." In reconciliation, you have to set it to a dollar amount. You have to say, "We're going to authorize 6 trillion in new borrowing." The number that gets tossed around a lot for what they would do if they did that is about 4.5 trillion. One of the reasons Mitch McConnell wants Democrats to take this vote and to put it in reconciliation, he said it again and again, he's surprised they didn't do that, is because that then makes voting for reconciliation also a vote to spend $4.5 trillion or $6 trillion to absorb the debt. His members won't be asked to... They could vote on it, of course, but they would vote in opposition to reconciliation. So we have a midterm coming up, a very important midterm, a 50/50 split in the Senate, a five vote majority or so in the House. Very tight. It would be great for Republicans to have a vote in which only Democrats voted in favor of a big debt increasing action and they'll run campaign ads about that. So that's part of the dynamic here. Now, the flip side of what we've talked about, if they don't accomplish these things on appropriations, if they don't do a CR, if they don't come to compromise, the government shuts down. That never happened until about, what, the mid-'90s was the first major government shutdown. But they've been happening with increasing frequency since then. We certainly had a longer shutdown during the Trump Administration, a couple other ones that weren't that long. That's not a great outcome. If they don't figure out the debt ceiling and we hit that deadline without a resolution, that's probably a whole lot more impactful. We don't know because we've never done this. We've never actually hit the debt ceiling without some coverage. I see you, because Sarah's heard me say this a million times, but the scenarios for what happens there ranges from an equivalent to the Great Recession to a global financial meltdown akin to the Black Friday crash of 1929, which caused the Great Depression. Nobody seems to think it'll be okay. So it's a really bad outcome. This brinkmanship that we're seeing on both sides is really risky, especially with all the other things that are colliding at the same time here.

Sarah Spreitzer: It's really scary. I have a regular standing call with our association colleagues across the pond in Europe and the UK. We usually send each other notes about what's happening in our governments, the update. As I was writing my update this month, I was like, "This is not a good way to run a government. It's just, it could lead really, really, very much into chaos." But Jon, when Congress is unable to move, we see the administration actually doing things through executive authority. We were laughing about this beforehand, and you know this is our favorite topic to talk about, the vaccine mandate. Obviously, because we both work really closely on that issue. I don't know which one of us-

Jon Fansmith: That's a joke. For people saying this is not Sarah and my's issue area.

Sarah Spreitzer: No.

Jon Fansmith: So we lean very heavily at our colleagues, but it's definitely an important one.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. We did see the Biden Administration came out with, I think, a new rule under executive authority. It wasn't a proposed rule. It's a final rule that's supposed to cover employers with more than 100 employees. It was issued as an emergency rule and then, I think, immediately stopped by the courts. Then we also have changes to contracts, which many of our institutions have contracts with the federal government that involves the vaccine mandate. I think that that is also being taken up in the courts. So I don't know if you have anything else to add to that, Jon?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I mean, it's a very complicated situation, particularly for a lot of our institutions. A lot of our institutions are federal contractors. The threshold that they're using is do you have contracts or "contract-like instruments" that are worth $250,000 or more? If so, you are a covered federal contractor and you have to be in compliance with that rule, with the executive order, as of December 8th, so just a couple weeks away from where we are right now. It requires you to ensure that all of your employees are vaccinated or if not vaccinated, that they're being tested on at least a weekly basis. So there's a lot, obviously as employers, that you would have to do there. The OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard that they put out November 4th and they've now put out the details on, it's similar in some ways, but it covers, like Sarah said, all employers who employ more than 100 employees. When we looked at how this impacted in institutions, the contractor standard, there are a lot of schools. I mean, there's lots of schools, especially if you have a good sized research department that will have contracts with the federal government well in excess of $250,000. But there are a large number of schools that wouldn't have met that threshold. When you move to you employ 100 or more employees, that's going to cover the overwhelming majority of other institutions. So, all of these institutions are going to be subject to these new rules. One thing that's sort of, and I don't quite understand, I guess we have to ask Steven this, but the OSHA rules apparently only apply in 28 states and territories that are considered OSHA covered jurisdictions. So not in all states will this apply. Then I think more importantly, as you pointed out, there were rafts of lawsuits against this mandate. I think currently 24 states' Attorney General have sued to stop the federal government in multiple cases, not just in one case. There's, I think, one with 10, one with another 12 or so. There's multiple lawsuits out there. Louisiana, I think a stay was just issued in in the enforcement of this. So this will be fought out in the courts for a long time before it will be binding in a lot of places. But frankly, for colleges and universities, that makes it even more confusing because your state may have different rules. You may be covered by OSHA or not. You've got a lot that your campus general councils are going to have to start digging into and working out what your compliance obligations are.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I don't know if our producers can post in the chat the issue briefs that our colleagues wrote up on it or any new information or resources that we have on it. But it does seem to be under the general councils on campuses. They're looking very closely at that. So Jon, we don't have any other questions. Do you have anything else you want to touch on or anything we didn't? I go back to the title of this public policy pop-up, was Reconciliation: Is It Good for Higher Education? Maybe we want to end on if people are having end-of-the-year conversations with their congressional offices or they want to know the one thing that they can do to try and advocate for higher ed, what do you think it would be?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I want to say, first of all, thank you to the institutional folks who have been throughout, not just this year and on this issue, but since the start of the pandemic, reaching out to their elected representatives and explaining how the pandemic's been impacting their campus, where their needs are. I think we went, in reconciliation and from a process that the House had provided, 111 billion for higher education to now roughly 22 billion for higher education, another 18 billion for workforce training. It's a much smaller pool of funds. There will continue to be fights. We know this going forward. As these bills hang out there, it's really important. This is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. If you are talking to your members of Congress, if you're reaching out, letting them know how an additional $550 would benefit your students, letting them know, particularly if you are an HBCU, a TCU, or another minority-serving institution, how $10 billion in funding between institutional support and research and development, what that would mean to your campus. We really do have to keep protecting what's in that bill, because as it hasn't even left the House yet. The Senate will have changes. They need to hear these things because the more they hear it, the less likely they're going to see it as another area for cutting further. So it's very important. If you haven't yet, please do. If you have, maybe touch back in just to say, "This is something we're following, something we care about."

Sarah Spreitzer: I think we have a lot of materials on our budget and appropriations page with letters that we've sent on reconciliation about those priorities that could be helpful for people to reference. So Jon, my call that we were going to wrap up. We did get a few more questions and there is a question about the reconciliation bill and the immigration provisions. Our colleague, Joel Welch, wanted me to say something about the green card provisions, which are in the immigration portion of the reconciliation bill. This is something that we've been following, but I would say it hasn't been the top of our priority list. This is something that would really help our graduates, but it's not focused on students. There are a lot of people that are currently in the green card backlog that have been waiting for many, many years for a green card, even though they qualify. The reason for that is that the total number of green cards is capped at 1 million. So once they're gone every year, that's it. No one else can get a green card, even if they qualify for it. So as part of the reconciliation bill, Congress is trying to recapture unused green cards that weren't used due to COVID and for other reasons, and then applying them to folks in the backlog. If people would want to get out of the backlog, they could pay a small fee to access some of these recaptured green cards. So we think that that's a really good thing and that's not an issue that the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled on. It's separate from the protections for the undocumented populations that we've seen. So we hope that that will remain in the reconciliation bill. I also see something in here. There was something about... And now I don't see it. Someone missed what you might have said about the infrastructure bill, Jon. I don't know if you want to say anything about what's in there for higher ed because there's not much, even though it's a massive bill.

Jon Fansmith: We touched on it briefly, but really, the only thing that's specific to higher ed is a program that's made permanent that would provide $30 a month in internet access or internet-capable device support to low-income individuals, for which Pell Grants recipients is an automatic eligibility indicator. So if you're a Pell Grant recipient, you automatically qualify for this money. And they made it permanent. It's $30 a month. It will certainly help those students with cost of internet access.

Sarah Spreitzer: Great. Then I think we also have a question about the current role for foreign students who are online only, about whether or not they can be in the country to study. So we have had some relief around the visa requirement that you have to be located in the United States to study at a US institution, that your classes have to be in-person as opposed to online. During COVID, we did see some flexibility for that grant started in the Trump Administration and the Biden Administration has continued that. Currently, that is carried out until the end of the 2021/2022 academic year. Unknown whether or not we would need that flexibility going into the fall of 2022. I'm going to be hopeful and say that we won't and that all of our campuses will be reopened, but that's a long ongoing visa rule that we only have had that flexibility due to COVID.

Jon Fansmith: Not seeing any other questions. I'd just like to thank everybody for joining us today and to remind you to please join us for our next pop-up on December 13th. You should receive an email to register for the next one. But if not, please check back on ACE's website at acenet.edu for further details and to register for the next pop-up. We certainly enjoyed hearing your questions and having this opportunity to share with you and look forward to seeing you at the next one. Thanks, everyone.

As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. For show notes and links to resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. While there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at podcast@acenet.edu to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. A very special thank you to the producers who help pull this podcast together, Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Catherine Ahmad, Carly O'Connell, and Fatma NGom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Mushtaq, Sarah, and I sound as good as possible. Finally, before we leave, thank you so much for listening.


About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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